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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Paint and Body: 1926

Paint and Body: 1926

Washington, D.C., circa 1926. "Joseph McReynolds service station." Our third look at this establishment. National Photo glass negative. View full size.

On Shorpy:
Today's Top 5

Things haven't really changed

Waterfall negative pressure booths not-withstanding, Auto painting hasn't changed very much in 100 years of metal coating. From brushes to pressure pots, shops have improved most everything except worker safety. Imagine all the asbestos brake dust and sundry other powdered dispersants these poor guys had to breath.

And another thing

In those days, they used molten lead to patch holes and dents in auto bodies. So if the paint fumes didn't get you, possibly you could get lead poisoning.

Lacquer or Not

That was probably newfangled DuPont Duco lacquer. The overspray would have been nearly dry by the time it floated over to the next car. The solvent vapors were then free to settle in the young painters' lungs.

50-884 is a Studebaker, circa 1920, and a touring car, meaning it has a cloth top and no side windows. There is no sign of any paint masking on the doors, so the interior (if it's currently installed) is going to require a little cleanup.

You can nearly read the newsprint on the left car-- some bathing suits, maybe-- one of the vignettes looks like a man in a tank-style suit, grasping his lady friend.

Re: Paint My Wagon

I don't think it's plastic sheeting but more old newspaper. Notice the windshield is obviously newsprint and it stands to reason the same would be used on the side windows, which are hard to see due to the reflective backlight. Besides, I don't believe plastic sheeting had been invented yet.

When these guys retired...

Their lungs were candy apple red with 8 coats of clear lacquer.

That's right, my friend.

None of your namby-pamby masks here.

Paint My Wagon

I love the newspaper used to mask the car on the left. I'm left wondering what material is being used to cover the glass behind the masking. It looks very much like modern plastic sheeting.

The single overhead bulb wouldn't produce much light. I guess these guys knocked off before dark.

Quite a contrast to modern clean spray booths.

The Big Sleep

"It's too damp for a good spray job, Art."

You'll never meet an old painter

I have worked in the automotive field all my life and I remember something told to me by an old gentleman who had worked in the auto repair business long before I did: "You'll neve meet an old painter. They all die a terrible death and a young one at that."

Sadly that conversation took place over 50 years ago and he was correct. Laws which enforced the use of ventilated spray booths were not put in place until a few years back and even then went largely unenforced.


I realize these fellows are only a couple of years past using an auto varnish brush but this is ridiculous. How long did they have to hold their breath? Is there even an exhaust fan in that place? Is that guy washing off overspray with his hands? Does the place explode when you flip on the overhead light? I will stop now as this is due for some really great comments!

A little paint never hurt anyone.

Wasn't it Henry Ford, that said,"You can have whatever color lungs you want, as long as it's black"?


Gee, it looks like everything is up to OSHA specs. And I love the deep tread on the car tires in the middle.

Safety and Health

Interesting picture. First time I'v seen body shop work from that era. No mask being worn and it's a wonder one of them isn't smoking. Also a puddle of possibly oil in the floor. Looks like the cover for the ceiling light electrical box has fallen down. Just noticed a fourth guy behind the car on the right appears to have a mask on. Would that be black paint?

Under Pressure

Well, that answers it for me! I had always wondered if the cars of that era where spray painted (silly me, gave it a thought that perhaps they did use brushes still). Coming from a family of mechanics, I love it! Thanks!

Ah, waiter!! There's a fly in my paint!!

The paint spray gun technology being employed by the middle fellow didn't change much until only recently. Even now, the new pressure tanks look nearly identical to this one from almost 100 years ago.

Thankfully, respiratory protection has improved all along though.

I feel dizzy.

Do you think paint fumes are harmful?


Notice the pressurized container just to the left of the guy spraying 50-884. I bought a similar apparatus about 30 years ago from Sears when I needed to repaint my house. Remove the top and insert 1 gallon can of paint and spray away until the can is empty -- neat and efficient with hardly any clean-up. And I thought it was something "new."


The one on the left is partly masked but the overspray in this room must be something else! Is that where Larry McReynolds got his start?

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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